The Mad Band introduce themselves as practitioners of improvised and spontaneous music, although this only provides the most basic of introductions to their skilfully crafted, approaching virtuosic levels of musicianship. Formed by founding member of King Crimson Michael Giles around a decade ago, the Mad Band in their present form are to all intents and purposes a continuation of that hugely influential group, including as it does (on this album) modern composer and also former Crimson associate Keith Tippett. Both musicians played on the bands 1971 In The Wake Of Poseidon album, and while Michael Giles left the band as a full member around this time, Keith Tippett continued to work alongside Robert Fripp until 1972′s Islands album.
In The Moment is the second album recorded by Michael Giles and his two other full band members, guitarist Daniel Pennie and percussionist AD Chivers, following on from 2009′s The Adventures Of… Keith Tippett has an extensive reputation outside of his work with King Crimson, and there’s an energy and depth to the work of the Mad Band that’s difficult to categorise. It’s very slightly misleading to describe this music as ‘improvised’ though. While spontaneous composition and extemporised jamming is what fuels the Mad Bands musical engine, there’s a myriad of influences present throughout In The Moment, and it can seem as much of a collision of talents as an association.
The album has a definite structure, and the tracks build upon each other purposefully, lending the proceedings a symphonic air. These are after all greatly experienced and committed musicians, and ones whose talents require (both in their earliest collaborations and now) wider structures to function within than the conventional rock/jazz/classical formats provide. Elements of all of these combine across the 14 tracks on In The Moment, referencing mainstream rock as often as they do John Cage or Stockhausen, the Bad Seeds or Neubaten, Public Image or Can : the one binding element holding these and other influences together is Michael Giles’ continuously inventive drumming which is thunderously assertive one moment then disingenuously reflective the next, and the rhythmic initiative of the tracks is shared amongst the performers, whether it comes from Keith Tippetts scattered piano chordage, Daniel Pennies controlled guitar feedback or the percussive interjections of AD Chivers.
The opening sequences of the album are superficially chaotic, metallic constructions, based around rumbling guitar and piano sequences that break up and reassemble themselves at cues such as a trumpet motif or sudden guitar runs. Opening track “Grand Graffiti” is a near bewildering blast of drumming and dissonant piano, music that takes swift turns of direction at a seemingly haphazard pace and this characterises the first four tracks (or perhaps the first movement) of the album. “Water Colour Mystery” slows the pace slightly, its growling bass riff contrasted against the angular contortions of piano and drumming that surround it, plus the sudden crashes of cymbals and other less immediately identifiable instruments. There’s a fluidity to the tracks in the album mid section that’s markedly apposite to the opening sequence, sounding more recognisably ‘improvised’ and with an enhanced spatiality to the overall sound. If “Why Not” and “Heavy Metal On Sunday” are structured around drumming and guitar patterns that can trace their antecedents back to the prog experimentation of King Crimson’s first albums, “Three Four All” and “Boots And Ballgowns” take more didactic rhythmic paths, sliding into effects-led guitar histrionics and bebop jazz inflected patterns as they develop.
In the albums later sequence, an element of vaudeville starts to seep in. “Care And Attention” and “Taxi To The Moon” see the Mad Band taking up and discarding tunes and melodies with discomfiting ease, one minute a music hall singalong, the next an indecipherable guitar and drum jam that sounds like each of the band attempting to outplay each other, and their enthusiasm carries over. There’s a thread of absurdist comedy apparent throughout In The Moment and it’s perhaps a key element of what holds the entire album together. Finally, “And Yet (In The Fullness Of Time)” is an instrumental played almost entirely straight, a track that would make for a credible lounge ballad were the Mad Band ever to find a vocalist able to keep up with their exertions.
In The Moment is several things at once. It’s a display of virtuoso musicanship without boundaries. It’s an experimental rock composition that harks back to the era of concept albums and tales of classical grandeur and it’s also perhaps a great King Crimson album. More than enough reasons to give the Mad Band some of your listening time.